In further sonata news:
Regarding Pale Fire again — the thing worked on me. I have to admit that I felt his pain, was disappointed on his behalf, when in the final pages he discovered sadly that Zembla was nowhere to be found in the poem.
I would also like to announce that at least three times reading this book I won the internet version of “OED Bingo”—which is where you look up a word in the dictionary and find the passage you’d just been reading among the usage examples. I had forgotten where I heard of this game; cursory googling indicates that it was coined and invented by the author Caleb Crain. (I have no idea how I ever would have found my way to Crain’s blog post about The Faerie Queen, but there it is.)
The most recent win was for the cheerfully unpronounceable “inenubilable.” Leave it to Nabokov, who grew up trilingual in Russia, to write a European emigre who speaks with such vocabulary.
Yeah so, just to get etymological, I’m reclaiming “sonata.” All this word really means is something played, rather than sung (“cantata”), and at first it was no more specific than that. Sonata form, as presently textbooked and termpapered, had its relatively short heyday. For those of us who love Beethoven and Mozart but also love Scarlatti and Cage, the word has always had a broader application.
Here it is applied to improvised music for dance: ( Sonatas for Dropshift )
One of the best writing tips I’ve received lately is in John McPhee’s Draft no. 4. If you’ve got a word that isn’t working, McPhee suggests, don’t go to the thesaurus; proceed rather to the dictionary.
So, I’m back.
On Pale Fire: the first time I read it, as an undergraduate, I thought it was funny and beguiling and mysterious. I like the combination of mystery and unsettling humor. On this re-read it was funnier but more so it was challenging, maybe even heartbreaking, as a commentary on high and low art and the impossibility of reading. The implication seems to be that none of us have the bandwidth to really understand art, and all we ever do is make every poem about ourselves—no matter how impossibly weak the correspondences. When Shade wouldn’t write the poem about him, Kinbote hijacked it and made it about himself anyway, and then made the commentary about himself, and hijacked too the attention of Shade’s readers—because who has ever read Pale Fire and had more fun and found more meaning with the poem than with the commentary? People ask whether Nabokov saw himself in Shade or Kinbote or both. Here I am, obsessing over finding myself in Kinbote. Regardless of the strength of the actual correspondences. (I’m reading a used copy. In one passage Kinbote writes, “If I were a poet…” The previous owner underlined and this and wrote in the margin, “You Are.”)
On songwriting and truth: there is a scenario in which the story in the song might be the truth, but not the whole truth, and certainly not nothing but the truth.
On music and space: here is a Wikipedia article I should study more closely. There is physical space, that which since Einstein has been considered together with time as an unbroken fabric. There is formal space, the space of mathematics, of topology. And there is perceptual space—that which we see, hear, and feel. New Year’s Resolution: do not blithely throw around metaphors about music conveying or exhibiting “space.”
A definition of music: we dramatize, stylize, and aestheticize the passage of time.
On the Hi-Fi
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Tides
— Because yoga music could use some help.
Chris Weisman - “Backpack People”
— And this interview. Note his point, from Zizek: “Americans picture the total catastrophic end of civilization all the time, but we cannot imagine an end to Capitalism.” Here I am telling my life story, and people are asking me why I don’t press vinyl.
Jimmy Lee Williams - “Have You Ever Seen Peaches”
— This recording is pure light and joy.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts